Prepping Your Meals in Advance Can Be a Pain, But It Can Help Cut the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Elizabeth Millard
·3 min read
Photo credit: Kristina  Vianello - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kristina Vianello - Getty Images
  • The more meals you eat prepared away from home, the higher your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and early death becomes, according to new research.

  • Prepping your meals—or even just parts of your meals—ahead of time can be beneficial for when you don’t feel like cooking an entire meal from scratch after a long, tough ride or other workout.

Getting meals delivered or stopping through the drive-thru when you’re tired after a ride feels like the easy and, let’s face it, often delicious option for maximizing your recovery time. Or, really, any time.

But even when you think you’re making healthy food choices, your eating-out habit could be sabotaging your health and longevity, suggests a new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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Researchers looked at data on just over 35,000 adults in a 15-year timeframe from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, a major research effort on U.S. dietary habits and health outcomes.

Focusing on the frequency of meals prepared away from home, they found an association with these meals and higher incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancer compared to those who prepared most of their meals at home. And early mortality was highest among those who ate restaurant or fast food meals very frequently—two meals or more per day.

Although the study authors concluded that more research needs to be done around why this might be the case, previous research provides some clues. For example, a study published in early 2020 suggested that less than 0.1 percent of restaurant meals were of ideal quality, as defined by the American Heart Association (AHA). In other words, these meals did not stick to the AHA’s guidelines of including a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, fish, poultry, nuts, and fat-free/low-fat dairy products, and limiting sugary drinks, sweets, processed meats, and other highly processed foods.

If time truly is the biggest part of the reason, meal prep can help, according to dietitian Kara Hoerr, R.D.N. You don’t need to create entire meals in advance—although that’s an option, if it works for you—but rather, focus on prepping ingredients by portioning and chopping them in advance, so you can throw together meals quickly, she told Bicycling.

“Takeout meals are done for convenience, but with a bit of strategic shopping and a little upfront work, you can put together a healthy meal in about five minutes,” she said. For example, pre-cook your protein by making a large batch of chicken breasts, so you can eat it as the base of your meals over the next couple days. You can also opt for tuna or chicken packets, Hoerr added, which can also be good as take-along snacks on a ride.

Paying for convenience while grocery shopping is another good option, such as buying pre-cut fruits and vegetables.

Many people like to do meal prep on Sundays to prepare for the week ahead, but if you don’t want to put in a few hours on it, Hoerr suggests the tried-and-true method of doubling the amount you cook so you have leftovers.

“Play around for a while until you find some tactics that work best for you,” she suggested. That way, having those restaurant or takeout meals can be a treat, not a habit.

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